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UK Charity to Use $638 Million Cash From Merck & Co. (MRK)'s Blockbuster Keytruda to Back R&D



6/15/2017 5:48:08 AM

UK Charity to Use $638 Million Cash From Merck & Co.'s Blockbuster Keytruda to Back R&D June 15, 2017
By Mark Terry, BioSpace.com Breaking News Staff

More than a decade ago, a UK charity, MRC Technology, the technology commercialization arm of the UK Medical Research Council (MRC), helped Merck & Co. (MRK) develop its immuno-oncology drug Keytruda (pembrolizumab). MRC Technology recently changed its name to LifeArc, and intends to use the approximately $636 million in royalties it receives from Merck to invest in research and new therapies.


Keytruda is well on its way to bringing in $2 billion in sales this year and hit $584 million in the first quarter. LifeArc indicates that this plan began when it sold part of its royalty interest in Keytruda in July to a private equity fund managed by DRI Capital for $150 million.

“We decided to take a slice of the royalties to de-risk, because at that stage it wasn’t clear what would happen in terms of sales,” said Mike Johnson, LifeArc’s business development director, to BioWorld. “We’ve never had anything like this magnitude of funding before; as a charity our income comes only from our own internal success with [advancing] drugs.”

LifeArc plans to fund new research into antimicrobials, neuroscience, personalized oncology, and respiratory medicine. “The name LifeArc better reflects what we achieve in being the arc or bridge between great science and its application to help patients,” said LifeArc’s chief executive officer, Dave Tapolczay, in a statement.

John Carroll, with Endpoints News, writes, “Now the newly dubbed LifeArc also has the cash to set up two small funds that will back academic researchers financed by other organizations as well as an early-stage fund for new drugs. And the Merck money has financed new digs as well for its 80 scientists involved in antibody and small molecule research at Stevenage, with a new facility in Edinburgh as well.”

The investment is expected to be made over the next five years. About 30 million pounds will be placed into a seed fund aimed at academic research. The rest will be put into a philanthropic fund to help medical charities in commercializing their research.
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LifeArc stated it plans to invest in “scientifically important riskier opportunities that would otherwise be passed up by pharma companies, where research is driven by profit.”

Johnson said, “The seed fund will support very early proof of concept in any area. Projects will be risky but have the potential to be financially quite interesting.”

In 2006, MRC researchers helped humanize the Keytruda antibody, engineering the protein sequence so it would be more similar to what humans naturally produce.

MRC Technology was responsible for commercializing MRC-funded research starting in 1998. It evolved into a charity in 2011, which made it independent from the MRC, even though it continued its commercialization operations. In 2012, it offered services to third parties, especially medical charities.

MRC Technology was involved in the spinout of Heptares Therapeutics, Ardana Bioscience and Domantis. In addition to its involvement with Keytruda, it participated in the discovery of Roche (RHHBY)’s Actemra (tocilizumab), Biogen (BIIB)’s Tysabri (natalizumab), and Takeda Pharmaceutical Co. (TKPYY)’s Entyvio (vedolizumab).

“We will continue to support and have the same relationship with the MRC,” said Johnson to BioWorld, “but whereas five to seven years ago 100 percent of our work was for them, it is now 10 percent, and we are scouting globally to find research.”

LifeArc has 140 staff, with 80 of them researchers at its Center for Therapeutics Discovery. Johnson said, “We have 80 scientists doing drug discovery and we could have used the money to double that number, but we don’t want to be like a pharma company. We want to address unmet medical need by working with partners.”


Read at BioSpace.com


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